Cover Image: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite

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Member Reviews

This story had a lot of potential but I couldn't get into it. The writing style made everything feel very old-fashioned and creepy but not in a good way. It seems like many others have enjoyed this though so I think it's just not for me!
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Unfortunately, I did not finish this book. I felt that it was very long winded and didn't give enough in the beginning to pull you in. There wasn't anything that made me say "whats going to happen" in the first 100 pages. If there isn't something that makes me feel this way, there at least has to be some narrative between characters that help me become invested in the characters. This did not happen either. As a reader that can get through almost 12 books every month, books have to be able to hold my attention.
     The writing itself wasn't bad per se, but when you find yourself picking up other things because you don't care whats happening to the characters or the storyline, that's not a great sign. 
I may try again during "spooky" season to see if it holds my attention a little better. I really wanted to enjoy this one since I enjoy true crime so much.
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Where to start with this one…

I think my expectations where completely wrong. I knew that this was a fictionalized account of Belle Gunness but I didn’t expect it to be almost completely made up or based directly on proved false claims and rumors. After checking out some documentaries and other factual info about The Widow of La Porte, it seems that very little of the book is based on facts. I mean, her name, the names of the kids, and the names of a few of the victims were accurate – and that she killed a bunch of people – but beyond that, not much. That was disappointing to me.

If you’re still thinking of reading the book after the above, then I suggest avoiding the audiobook. There were two narrators and both had, for me, cringe-worthy performances. One sounded like she was on the verge of tears constantly and both had the same tone and style for every man – a sly, airy, sleazy sort of voice – no matter their station or situation. After awhile, it only made my existing frustration worse.

Andy, Colette, and I featured In the Garden of Spite on the March episode of Cocktail Hour if you’d like a more in-depth – and more humorous – discussion.
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While this is a historical novel about a female serial killer during the 1800s I found the character so unlikeable that I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to others.  I did enjoy her sister Nellie and her struggle with how to deal with her sister.  If you like to learn about female serial killers this may be a book for you.
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Loved this one! Needed to look a few things up in the very beginning, but could be due to a cultural difference. Overall, amazing story, plot and writing. Loved it to the last page.
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I received this through NetGalley. I wanted this because it was true crime lightly based from the first female serial killer, the Black Widow. She was a woman that had rich tastes in a situation that was not made for them, so she came up with ways of getting what she wanted, by killing her husbands. I really liked the pace and the insight into the thoughts of her sister.
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I loved this book. I am a true crime fan and I was partly aware of this story, but I loved the details this book had and the (probably partly fictionalized, partly true) aspects of the main character's life.
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In the Garden of Spite: a Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte
Available NOW!
Book review: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

I hope you’ve had a great weekend and are ready for a new month. I can’t believe February is almost over but I’m also glad, its not been a great month for a lot of people. 

I’m about to pull my skeletons out of the closet to share my obsession with all things true crime, gimme Deadly Women or Snapped and I’ll make a marathon of it with popcorn. The same goes for podcasts, Crime Junkie y’all don’t know it but we’re BFFs. 

So, I saw a review for Garden of Spite and I HAD to read it. When I think of America’s first female serial killer I though it was Aileen Wuornos. 

I learned a few things from In the Garden of Spite. Although the story is fictional, it was heavily based on Belle Gunness a woman from Norway who moved to Chicago to live with her sister after she endured a serious attack. Most of her crimes occurred in Illinois and Indiana from 1884-1908.

The author spends several chapters on Belle as a young woman, her harsh upbringing, and the attack that lead her to her first kill. After Belle made it to America to live with her sister, she had her eye on wealth and always having everything she wanted. Moderation wasn’t in Belle’s vocabulary. Quickly, she married a man of means and lived a lavish lifestyle. When the money ran out, Belle became the queen of insurance fraud, whether it be a husband, child, or property it became source of money, especially her husbands. I don’t want to give up the whole story but she was demented, depraved, and horrible. 

The writing however was excellent and kept me turning pages late into the night. I really enjoyed the author’s note explaining what she took liberties with and what was in fact true. 

If you like true crime, historical fiction with a murder aspect, even thriller lovers will get sucked into this one. Thank you @berkleypub  @netgalley @camillabruce_writing for my digital copy of the book to review.
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Special thanks to NetGalley and Berkeley Publishing.

What a great book! I love a good serial killer book. This is a great one. Belle Gunness is a woman that men come to see, for a variety of different thing, BUT nobody ever sees them leave. Hmmm, what could be happening?

This is a book of one woman's way to get back at men who have mistreated her. This is a book about rage and what a lifetime of suffering can do to a person, once it festers.

I really hope this book  is made into a movie. When you find yourself rooting for the unspeakable evil that's in all of us, and what measures we are driven to..... be scared. Be very scared!
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Yikes.. what a read.. I really didn’t have any idea how this story was going to go and it surprised me at every turn. One woman, her endless rage and greed, is based loosely on a true story. In the Garden of Spite: The Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce, is an excellent novel & I am so glad that I was given an advanced copy, from Netgalley, for an honest review. Belle, the main character is from Norway, makes her way to America and stays with her sister in Chicago. Belle, left Norway after she  is beat up, nearly to death and is looking for a better life. This beating is the start of her killing spree and the amazing lengths she will go to commit murder. The story is written in Belle’s voice and her sister Nellie’s voice. Nellie, brings her sister to America in the mid 1800’s. Nellie is not aware of the her sister’s problems and she learns quickly that all is not what it seems. I love the way the author told this story from both sister’s perspective. I was fascinated about Belle’s life and actions. (a little more than I want to admit) but I couldn’t wreak this story fast enough, to see how it would all play out. Bella is cunning and ruthless and won’t stop until she either gets caught or does herself. I found it amazing that she was married, raised children, owned a business and a farm and still had time to peruse her hobbies. This book is not for the faint of heart... but all I know is that I really liked this book, liked the author’s writing and loved how it ended.. Just the way it should have.. I am very thankful that I was given a copy to read. i have shared my thoughts on my Instagram page and have recommended it to friends and family. I have also shared my review on Barnes & Noble. If you like a twisty, dark story.. with excellent writing and character development, this is the book for you.. It was a five star read for me!!!
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The book was just too depressing. The focus was off and there was no balance to the darkness of the main character. Interesting premise, poor execution.
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This was such a fantastic read that I find myself missing it days after I finished. I've never heard of Bella Gunness before and the depth of research needed to write a story this all encompassing definitely impressed me. It was fun to read about something completely new. Usually, books of this nature feature a male killer or are set in more modern times. I felt this straddled historical fiction and true crime rather well. It didn't get bogged down in details (this was my struggle with The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - however, to be fair, I read that book AGES ago so I might have more appreciation for it now) and the dual narrative helped give a perspective outside of what Belle was telling us.

Spanning decades (and almost 500 pages), this is the fictional account of a notorious serial killer from La Porte, Indiana. It takes a while to get to the part where Belle becomes the Black Widow and I thought this rather well explained just how she became a killer. You really got to know Belle because you followed everything that happened to her from a young girl in Norway up until she was middle aged. It is very dark at times, but not terribly gruesome (at least for me).

My only cautionary note is that the book is long. I wouldn't have edited anything out, particularly because this was an exploration into how Bella became who she was. I felt the author did a good job moving it along as quick as she could while staying true to the purpose of the book. The good thing is that every time I started to feel a little antsy, the story moved on and I was right back in it again.

If you're interested in true crime, Victorian era or female historical characters then I absolutely recommend this book for you.

Thanks to Berkley Publishing for sending me a widget via Netgalley to review honestly.

Review Date: 02/16/21
Publication Date: 01/19/21
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A story about a female serial killer? Say no more. This book was on my radar for weeks and I couldn’t wait to start reading it. It sounded deliciously dark and creepy with so much promise. My book club picked this one to read for our February book because it sounded so amazing.

I was fully ready for this book to be on the darker side. In fact I expected it to be one of my more darker reads with a lot of nuance and atmosphere. On the surface this book was primed to be one of my favorite reads of 2021 and I couldn’t wait to start reading this one. And then I did start reading it and I don’t know that I was fully prepared for how dark this novel was going to get.

Full disclosure, I didn’t finish this one. I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t for me and it also wasn’t for any of the ladies in my book club (we switched to another book for February) but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read this one. I think this is a book that would appeal to a certain type of reader rather than the masses.

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte. The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand.

Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive. (summary from Goodreads)

The second I started reading this one it was very apparent this was not going to be a book for me. I had just come off this whole string of historical romances with happy fluff and HEA, so I was willing to keep reading this one just in case I was tainted by this fact, but the more I read the more I was sure this just wasn’t the novel for me.

I expected this one to be gritty and dark, but I didn’t expect it to be gross. Since I only read 15%, I don’t consider this a spoiler. In the beginning, the heroine finds herself pregnant and the guy who got her pregnant basically beat the baby out of her. The author graphically describes her attack and the loss of the baby, likening it to a piece of meat. It was just too much for me and since this happens at the beginning of the book, it just turned me off entirely. The rest of what I read was about her recovering from her injuries and setting up for how this attack would impact her future decisions.

Her parents were basically poor alcoholics and they were not nurturing at all, in fact they were down right abusive. I would be willing to look past all of these parts if there was some sort of redeeming quality about the heroine. I mean I get that she was a serial killer and obviously it would be unlikely that she would have a redeeming quality, but there was simply nothing about her I liked. Initially I felt horrible that this terrible thing happened to her, but the more I read I just couldn’t muster any sympathy.

While this book was definitely not for me, I still think the concept shows promise and I think that this would appeal to the right reader. Perhaps someone who enjoys darker, grittier reads. I also thought that some of the observations of the characters showed a strong sense of awareness, for example there was a closing line in a chapter where the attacker said something to the effect of ‘you are nothing but vermin’ and when the chapter closes the main character says that she will survive because the vermin always survive. I admired the author’s boldness and awareness/insight for her characters even if this one wasn’t for me.

Even if I didn’t like it, you might. If I were you, I would download a sample and see if you like it before you buy it because I think this is a book that you will be able to tell if you like it or not right away.

Book Info and Rating
Hardcover, 480 pages

Published January 19th 2021 by Berkley

ISBN0593102568 (ISBN13: 9780593102565)

Free review copy provided by publisher, Berkley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: DNF 1 star

Genre: historical fiction, thriller, mystery
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This novel is historical fiction as well as a true crime story.  It is a fictional account of the infamous female serial, Belle Gunness.  She had a tragic beginning in Norway, suffering abuse and violence.  She became driven to go to America and improve her life.  She started her killing spree in Norway when she poisoned the farmer's son, whom she worked for, after he got her pregnant and then beat her so badly that she lost the baby.  She got away with that killing which probably inspired her to continue when she arrived in America.  She becomes a vengeful, scary monster while presenting herself as being an upstanding citizen.  She keeps killing and discarding bodies, collecting insurance money, and even killing her own children. She gets away with killing sprees for most of her life. Her last known event was the burning down of her house where she had laid out her dead children in the basement.  An adult body, similar to her own, but headless, was found with the children.  The body could not be identified as hers.  So in reality, she did probably kill them all - burnt the house down - and escaped to kill even more.  Evil walks the earth.   The book reads at too slow of a pace for me - there seemed to be much that could of been edited out.  It is a disturbing and creepy story - all the more so because she was a real person.
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I have been interested in serial killers since I minored in criminology in college, so this book was very intriguing to me! Belle Gunness was a real serial killer in the late 1800s (a time period that is also very interesting to me) but this book is a fictionalized account of her life and crimes. It was very dark and violent, which is right up my alley! It was a little too long for my taste, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was even a little creeped out.
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Let me start by saying that the entire premise is super interesting. The way that Bruce was able to portray Belle was done very well. One of the things that people wonder after a serial killer is discovered, is what drove them to it. What were the mental processes that went into the decision to take the lives of other people? Bruce set out to do just that, and she did it very effectively. It's true that I don't know very much about Belle Gunness, but I feel like that only added to my enjoyment of the book. The way that Bruce was able to paint a very vivid picture of this woman in a way that gives her a slice of humanity, without undermining the awful things that she had done was exceptional. That is to say, that the character depth and development was all very well done. I think that it takes a special eye to be able to develop the character of a person that was actually once alive. All we have regarding Belle Gunness' personality and character is anecdotal hearsay from people that knew her (what was written at least), old articles in the news, and some letters that she sent. The haze that history cast upon the woman, had to be decoded and written in a way that truly encapsulated her character. The way that we see Belle go from a sympathetic character that we were definitely rooting for, to this monster that kills just to feel something, was wild. We watched her descent into crime and at times we even felt for her.

The way that the dialogue was written also felt very natural and accurate for the time period. The portrayal of the plight of a poor woman in the 19th century also felt very well done. The way that women in that time had to work themselves to the bone for their families was very fascinating to read about from the perspective of a woman at the time (even if it was through the lens of a person from the 21st century). The imagery produced by the descriptions, be that the good or the ugly, were done tactfully. Bruce was able to transport the reader into these houses with Belle. We were able to see what she saw and experience the world as she did.

On the negative side, I feel like the author took a bit too much liberty in writing the book. I do like that she included an author's note, kind of laying out the changes she made, but it still felt like too much. There were just a lot of things added for the sake of the story; they did add to the depth of the story, but it also skewed the actual history. I kind of feel like if so many things were going to be changed, Bruce could've just altered a few details and made it a complete work of fiction. To be honest, I'm a little torn on it all. I enjoyed the story, and I think it was better for the additions (somewhat, I'll touch on this in a moment), but I also feel like the closer that it could've stuck to the actual history the better. But once again, the police never interviewed Belle Gunness, so we will never really know the whole story. We can only really know from secondhand sources. So, I'm not particularly upset about the additions, especially since Bruce detailed them in the author's note. But, I also think that some weren't wholly necessary, the most prominent being Nellie (told you I'd come back to it). I liked the addition of Nellie and seeing her side of things. Getting to see how it felt to be around your own sister, all without realizing that she is murdering people was really cool. However, she was used far too much in the book. Her point of view could have been cut half of the amount that it was used, especially as it is largely fiction. I found myself losing interest whenever it would shift to her point of view. I also think that some of Belle's chapters could've been cut as well. What I'm saying is that the book as too long. I got kind of bored around the middle. I know that much of it was for the sake of development, but it still kind of dragged. Also there were some graphic sexual scenes in this book, I'm not complaining about that, just the fact that the man she was sleeping with is entirely fictionalized makes it feel wrong. It makes it feel gratuitous and there just for the sake of being salacious. 

All-in-all, I feel like most of my complaints are relatively small and that the book was an overall good read. I really enjoyed it, and I think it would be enjoyed even more in audiobook form. I personally read the ebook, but I can see this book performing even better in audiobook format.
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3.5 stars. I was intrigued by the description of this book, but it took some debate with myself before I decided to request it.  This was a story I knew nothing about and it is a hard one to read.  Belle was definitely spiteful and her story really picked up once she moved to La Porte. Very heartbreaking. 

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this book.
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In the Garden of Spite is a historical novel based upon the life of Belle Gunness. Belle was a Norwegian immigrant, and one of America's earliest female serial killers. Between 1884 and 1908, she murdered up to 40 people. The exact total of her victims is unknown, and Belle disappeared without a trace after faking her own death.

Belle began life as Little Brynhild, a daughter if poverty stricken Norwegians. Having set her sights on better things, she seduced the son of a local landowner, thinking that he would marry her. Instead, he beat her until she miscarried, resulting in permanent physical damage.

After immigrating to America, Belle was determined to marry up. She also discovered the benefits of insurance, arranging fires to recoup investments in a failed business, as well as two homes that she had tired of. She also assisted her first husband into an early grave, on the one day that two life insurance policies were in force.

Murder turned into a profitable business for Belle, She found victims through advertisements placed in newspapers.  Murder ws also a convenient way to dispose of unwanted children.

Even though Belle was a thoroughly unpleasant character, and her murders terribly bloody and gruesome, her story is fascinating. I read this book in one sitting.

I would recommend this title to any true crime fan.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free digital copy of this title to review from Net Galley.

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Thank you NetGalley, Camilla Bruce, and Berkley Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce is for anyone who is fascinated by the mind of a serial killer. There is always a beginning to the evil. Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset wants more than the life of a tenant farmer. She sets her eyes on a man who is the farm owner’s son. But even as she is with child, he still won’t have her and he beats her and leaves her for dead. Except she lives. Her revenge is slow but gives results. The only way to move on is to move in with her sister in America. There she marries a shop owner. He is kind and will provide for her. But is that enough? He is too kind, too weak, and not ambitious enough for her. He will be one of her victims. But is it really because he was too weak? Is it about the money? Or has she developed a taste for killing?

Triggers: graphic murder, abuse, child loss

This book is inspired by Belle Gunness or The Black Widow of La Porte. The author does an amazing job at getting into the head of a serial killer. She gave her a villain origin story so to speak. The story stays pretty true to the history that we are aware of when it comes to Belle Gunness. There is a brief introduction to social issues in Norway and then jumps into one of the most intriguing time periods of Chicago. While she was killing in La Porte, Indiana. HH Holmes was busy with his murder hotel in the White City. Fun fact: Belle Gunness was never apprehended nor was her death confirmed. Here you go, conspiracy theorist fans, did she die or escape?

I could have done without her sister’s point-of-view. It slowed down the story and just felt unnecessary and repetitive. BUT I loved reading from Belle’s perspective. Which each death, she always has a reason. Until the end—when she finally accepts her want to kill. It is definitely eerie and I could totally see this being a terrifying Netflix series! Pretty please, Netflix? I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars!
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This historical horror was eerie and disturbing. Being the mind of a serial killer was extremely unsettling but absolutely captivating. 

I absolutely loved some of the choices Camilla Bruce made in telling this story. This is told in 2 POVs - one being the killer herself, Bella, and the other her sister. Doing this really highlighted the way that Bella twists scenarios. I found it really easy to sympathize with Bella when we were in her head, but then hearing the same situation from a biased outsider would flip everything on its head. I just loved how the author was able to make Bella so layer - she was really unlikeable and frustrating but I never hated her. I even found myself feeling heartbroken for her at times. It was a really fascinating character exploration that blew me away. 

However, despite loving all of that about this book, I did find it too be a little too long throughout the middle. It seemed at times to hang and dwindled on scenes at times and I would find my attention wavering. This is quite a long book, especially for a True Crime thriller, and I just wish it had been a pinch shorter to keep the pace up. 

Definitely stick around for the author's note at the end! I'm not a true crime lover so I had never heard of Bella's story before this. So it was really cool and insightful to hear about the inspiration and theories she ran with to create this story. I will definitely be checking out more from Camilla Bruce in the future!

Review live on blog 2/10 at 9am!
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