Cover Image: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite

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3 words to describe this book: dark, brutal and fascinating.  This book is based on the life of Belle Gunness, who was also known as the Black Widow of La Porte, America's first documented female serial killer and possibly the most prolific.  She's credited with at least 40 murders in the areas of La Porte, Indiana and Chicago between 1884 and 1908.  Belle was born Brynhild Stortset in the tiny village of Selbu, Norway in 1859 to a poor family.  She emigrated to Chicago to live with her sister Nellie in her early 20's.  This book tells her story from the perspectives of Belle and her sister Nellie.  The author, Camilla Bruce, did meticulous research to try to piece together Belle's life and understand the woman behind the notorious reputation.  The author notes in the afterward that many parts of the story are factual, with fictional details added to fill in the blanks and speculate on her motivation.  Her story is very dark - circumstances were not kind to Belle as a child and young woman, which likely helped to shape her into the woman she became.  In her life, there followed a series of accidents, illnesses and arson that add up to much more than coincidence.   Her outlook and her methods were savagely violent - this book is not for the faint of heart. There's a lot of violence and gore. Although I wouldn't call Belle a likable character, being inside her mind makes the whole affair seem almost reasonable.  The men pushed her to it - what else could she do?  It was brutal, disturbing, and a total page turner that had me on the edge of my seat.  If you enjoy reading about serial killers, dark historical fiction, or true crime, you won't be able to put this book down.  Thank you to Berkley Pub and Netgalley for an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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In the Garden of Spite is a fictionalized account of Belle Gunness, a notorious serial killer from 1884-1908. She lured her victims to her farm outside of LaPorte, Indiana via newspaper ads run in Chicago newspapers. The Widow Gunness needed someone to help her with her large farm and with her children. Only males with means and willing to pay a personal visit need apply. Before she was discovered, she killed forty men (at least.) She slipped away from the farm and was never brought to justice for the murders. 
The novel starts back in Belle’s home country of Norway, when Belle, then known as Little Brynhild Størset lived with her family in grinding poverty. Norway is where Little Brynhild first got away with murder, a feat she would repeat over her lifetime. 
Bruce’s novel is a mix of historical fiction, true crime, and suspense. She immerses the reader into Guinness’ world, and the result is a horrifying book that is difficult to put down. This is a book that will stick with me for a long time. 
Recommended. Bruce does a fantastic job of immersing the reader into Gunness’s world. The suspense level is high throughout the book, even though the ending isn’t a surprise.
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Why I liked it:
This novel presents feminine rage in a clear and concise manner. As the reader, you won't be tempted to forgive Belle's actions, but you will understand what led her to that moment. She's not a sympathetic character, but so much of her life is a reaction to the incident from her early years in Norway that I did not forget her humanity despite all of the gore.

What I would like to change:
There was a point, particularly after we arrived in La Porte, Indiana, where the plot began to feel very repetitive and where Belle's character stopped achieving any sort of growth. I know that it served the purpose of illustrating just how unchecked her crimes were at that time, but it did get a little tedious from the reading perspective.
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"We are all just creatures on this earth, fending for ourselves the best that we can. There is nothing unnatural about me. I walk the same pastures as any other. I am as natural as they come. There are just not many of my  kind."

Wow. what a story! This largely fictionalized account of the real serial killer, The Widow of La Porte, Belle Gunness, is very slow to start but when it takes off -- you will find it impossible to put down. Despite lengthy investigations, there is still no accurate tally of the number of men, women, and children she killed. Although remains were found on the farm she owned in Indiana, it is believed that there are many unaccounted for given anecdotal evidence and a great deal of suspicion. In fact, there is nothing found to indicate when and where she died. The narrative is told from the viewpoints of Belle (also known as Bella) and her sister, Nellie. 

The main feeling that I had while reading was that of dread. I could hardly believe that someone this evil was able to get away with what she did for so long. She is definitely a psychopath, very manipulative, and incredibly heinous. Everything she did was to protect herself and for money though there is an attempt to give her behavior a motive based on something that happened to her in Norway before she came to the United States. The author explains in an endnote that much of this novel is creative license, but if even a part of this is factual, it's a gruesome tale. Much of the book was quite difficult to read yet I could not stop reading as I had to know the extent of her terrible crimes. The truly scary part is to know that those murders essentially went unpunished and the many victims never got justice. 

Definitely you will need to find something light and sweet to calm your emotions once you've finished.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for this e-book ARC to read, review, and recommend to those who can stomach it!
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** “People are so foolish; they beg to be deceived.” **

** “This is how curses are made: someone does something to another, and traps that person in a web with threads so fine they can hardly be seen. There is no escaping that web.” **

Camilla Bruce delivers a fictionalized telling of real life serial killer Belle Gunness in the incredibly intriguing “In the Garden of Spite.”

After Belle, born Brynhild Storset, is brutally attacked in her homeland of Norway as a teen, she first gets the deadly taste of revenge, which she takes with her to America as a young adult. The book follows Belle for the next three decades as she eventually gives into her fatal urges to always have more and not settling for less, all while acting out of spite.

“In the Garden of Spite” is a fascinating story of how a simple farm girl becomes one of America’s most notorious and earliest serial killers. It cautions against acting out of anger, spite and deception — and the dark road those emotions can take one down.

It also reminds us of the impact of the stains of sin, and that “Some stains won’t wash away.”

Blending truth and supposition, Bruce does an incredible job of researching the life of Belle, and what could have taken her down the dark road of murder.

Anyone who loves true crime stories, as well as tales about murder and serial killers, will love this story.

Disclaimer: “In the Garden of Spite” does contain a number of moments of intimacy, as well as occasional swearing.

Five stars out of five. 

Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, provided this complimentary copy through NetGalley for my honest, unbiased review.
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The story line of this book was good and very interesting. The main character made me soooo mad!!!  How does someone like her not get caught???  The book really dragged in spots, but overall, I liked it. It is interesting to read about people in history, and in this case, a woman who got away with soooo much! @berkleypub
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I'm not sure what to call this book so I will settle on fact based historical fiction with a heavy leaning towards true crime. Although events have been changed and some characters invented it is based on the life of a Norwegian-American serial killer who was active in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908.

Belle Gunness is thought to have killed at least 14 people and possibly many more. Most of them were men she conned into marriage or the promise of marriage, and others who just got in her way. As the story opens. Belle (who is known as Brynhilde at that time) is an unhappy girl from a poor family who is abused at home and working as a maid. She is in love with a farmer's son and too naïve to understand that his family is considered above her station in life and that he will never marry her. I felt a lot of sympathy for her at first as she is left pregnant and in fear of the shame that will bring if the father of her child refuses to stand by her. When she threatens him it leads to horrific violence and it at this time she changes from naïve child to broken and vengeful woman. I think I still felt for her at this time even while she plotted and manipulated her way to America. Upon her arrival, her true nature starts to take over and it becomes clear that she has very little emotion other than rage. Belle views people only as something to be used to get what she wants. The author creates a very detailed, gripping and chilling account of the inner workings of a murderers mind.
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“We are all just creatures on this earth, fending for ourselves the best that we can. There is nothing unnatural about me. I walk the same pastures as any other. I am as natural as they come. There are just not many of my kind.”

A fictionalized account of infamous serial killer Belle Gunness, IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE takes readers on a journey from Belle’s tragic beginnings to her rise to wealthy, connected woman, with a trail of bodies in between. Known to many as The Butcher of Men, this book puts readers inside Belle’s head and we get to witness first hand every moment from the heartbreak and the tragedy, to the violence and the gore that eventually earns Gunness that well-earned moniker. 

Having just a passing familiarity with Gunness, this is a book that, when I first heard of it, I knew I needed to read. Serial killers in and of themselves are horrifically fascinating, and ones of the female persuasion are even more so. People speculate that it was rage that eventually drove Gunness to commit all of the heinous and horrific acts, and after reading this book and bearing witness to the many tragedies that befell Belle (even if they are mostly fiction), I’d believe it. Bruce does such a phenomenal job with making Gunness seem less a monster and more a mere human woman that it was difficult at times not to sympathize with her. Though let’s be real here — she is most definitely a sociopathic monster, even when you want to believe that perhaps that isn’t the case. 

Bruce stays true to the parts of Belle’s story that are common knowledge, and I love that she weaves in a lot of fiction among the fact. The bones of the true story are what this novel are built on, but it’s all of the extras — the made-up characters, the social events, the courting periods with her various husbands that give Gunness the personality we can only imagine she had in life. Bruce is an excellent storyteller, and this is certainly a book that was equal parts horrifying and entertaining. 4.5 stars, and now I’m off to fall down the Belle Gunness rabbit hole. (Seriously, it’s fascinating stuff!) 

*Many thanks to @netgalley and @berkleypub for the arc!
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I knew nothing about Belle Gunness before I saw this book offered on NetGalley, but it sounded interesting, so I requested it. And interesting it is.

Belle Gunness was a serial killer whose murderous spree stretched from 1884 to 1908. Born Brynhild Paulsdatter Storseth, she grew up in Norway, living an impoverished life as the daughter of a tenant farmer. After suffering abuse at the hands of men – her father, a local boy who got her pregnant – she vowed that she would have better, and she would not be subject to men’s torment.

She immigrated to America, following her sister Nellie, where she rechristened herself Bella, or Belle. The story is told from the viewpoints of both Belle and Nellie, and this gives us the chance to see not only Belle’s thought process, but Nellie’s. Nellie swings from convincing herself that everything is fine to being certain that something is very wrong with Belle, that she’ll have to act against her own sister. Honestly, I kind of wanted to smack Nellie for dithering so much and not doing something about Belle, but I can also see where she would have been terrified to actually try to stop the horrors unfolding.

Belle’s difficult formative years apparently impacted her deeply and brought out the worst in her. She is a difficult character to feel any kind of empathy for. She is grasping, greedy, always wanting more than what she has. She marries a good man, but that isn’t enough for her. She wants children and finds a way to acquire them (there really isn’t another word that fits), and she does love them, as best as she is able. But Belle’s desire for the good life, the best life, leads her to do horrible, brutal things.

This book isn’t for the squeamish. Belle’s murder methods aren’t gentle. She used a cleaver to dismember her victims for easier disposal. It’s not unnecessarily graphic just for shock value, but there’s really no nice way to write that.

It just boggled my mind as I read to think that all these men could vanish and have their disappearance go basically unquestioned, at least at first. In most instances, people seemed to take Belle at her word that the men had been there, but had gone on somewhere else. But then, I reminded myself that this was before the age of internet access and quick communication, that no one could log in and check these men’s credit card activity or phone records. But still. For a woman to be able to kill that many people, dispose of them, and then be able to get away with it for as long as she did is mind-blowing.

Ms. Bruce did her research, and the book is well-written. It isn’t an easy read due to the subject matter, but it is a fascinating look at an intriguing historical figure.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for the advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
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In the Garden of Spite is a dark historical fiction novel based on the life and crimes of Bella Gunness, the Black Widow of La Porte.

Told from the perspectives of Bella and her sister, Nellie, we see how Bella felt driven to commit the crimes she did. This story was incredibly written and the turn of the 20th century setting was beautifully crafted. I don’t usually love slow burns, but this one was perfectly done. It will build the world just to get you comfortable and a page later you’re in shock at what’s unfolding and you won’t be able to put it down.

This story is for true crime lovers and historical fiction fans with a strong stomach.
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Wow! I honestly had no idea what I was getting into with this book, the cover looked cool. I absolutely loved it. I loved and hated different characters. I was happy at times and frustrated at times. I didn't realize until the author's note that this was based on a true story. That made it even better for me! I want to research more about Belle Gunness!
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I love books on historical murderesses and this was an interesting in sight into a little known woman of history, I hadn’t heard of her before this novel and was pleasantly surprised to research the true story along with reading this fictional account. I will def keep this in mind for the few patrons who share similar likes.
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Whew Lordy! I had no idea Belle Sorenson even existed before this novel, but you bet your tushy I was googling her after this novel! I love when that happens. What a twisted woman! Her dark story and the writing had me gasping and turning pages. I love when a book has me both horrified by and sympathizing with a character whose morals are so obviously screwed up. It's very rare that we get a glimpse into a female serial killer, so this was a lot of fun for me! Which sounds so messed up when you put it like that, but it was a great book nonetheless!
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I received a complimentary ARC copy of In the Garden of Spite:A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce from NetGalley & Berkley Publishing Group in order to read and give an honest review.

... the author does an excellent job at getting inside the mind of this infamous serial killer...

This will be a challenging book for me to review I’m giving it a 3.5 but rounding it up to four stars. Part of me loved this book, but part of me, well...

For the positives, Camilla Bruce does such a fantastic job fictionalizing the story of a real-life serial killer Little Brynhild / Bella Sorenson / Gunnes aka "The Black Widow of La Porte". Well-written for the most part, the author does an excellent job at getting inside the mind of this infamous serial killer. Bruce’s characters were brilliantly brought to life, perhaps in the case of Bella, a little too well. On the negative side, although I do not shy away from dark books this was even a bit much for me. Warning for those faint of heart, this novel contains graphic violence, murder, dismemberment, sex, arson, child abuse and infanticide. I also found at times it was slow and repetitive which made it a struggle to get into.

The novel follows Little Brynhild/Bella through her young teenage years and into her middle age. We learn about a heartbreaking ordeal she experiences as a young teenager in Norway that leaves wounds that fester driving her to inflict damage onto all those who get close to her. The disconnect she feels towards her family and a rage that she cannot contain, drives Little Brynhild to leave the misery of Norway to join her sister Nellie in America. In America she takes the name Bella Sorenson and is disappointed in her first experience. Bella longs to make a happy and successful life for herself, constantly seeking acceptance from those in her adopted community. Having struggled for respect in Norway she knows what she wants and what she must do to reach the status she desires for her future. Bella is determined to be the perfect self-made, powerful woman and will go to any length and taking matters into her own hands in order to get what she feels she is due.

Being a fairly famous news story, many people who follow true crime are aware of this famous female serial killer, but the author manages to get inside this monster's head offering the reader a glimpse of what could have driven this woman to such destruction.

It is a well-written engaging fictional interpretation of the workings of this woman’s mind, but it was a little too graphic for my taste, nevertheless an intriguing read.
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Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Belle Sorenson was America's first serial killer. She kills men for their fortunes and nobody seems to be able to prove it. The story is set in the late 1800's / early 1900s, mostly after Bella's move to the United States. Her killings are justified - she has to do what she has to do to be successful in the world. 

I will start by saying this book is WAY out of my normal genre. I don't read too much historical fiction, and when I do it tends to be a romance. However something about the summary peeked my interest and I'm glad I got into it!

The characters in this book were so interesting! Little Brynhild / Bella/ Belle in particular was so complex, completely guiltless in her efforts to get what she wanted. From writing to her sister and secretly adding sentences from her "mom", to the suspicious situation with Anders at the lake, to her father, and all the men that followed, this book was quite a wild ride! She was so selfish, never content, and always wanted more. She really didn't let anyone get in her way.

I had a slow start getting into the book- as I mentioned, it was different than any other book I typically read. Once Bella arrived in the US I was more invested and it picked up. I finished it and read the author's note- I had no idea it was based on a true story! I think that Camilla Bruce created a world for us, based on facts, but embellished enough to make it a story.
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Content Warning: Murder, drugging, serial killer, child abuse, and loss of an infant. 

This book is not for the faint of heart. Belle Gunness is a woman who has learned the hard way that she has to rely on herself and must be crafty to get what she wants. We follow Belle through around 30 years of her life I believe. We see her go from a teenager in Norway to an adult in America living on a farm, so we get to see her change completely and kind of what caused this change to happen. 
Belle is a very crafty person and she knows how to get people to do what she wants to a certain extent and when that doesn't work she takes matters into her own hands so she can better herself from the situation in the end. The family was a big part of this story and how Belle wanted it, but also didn't always seem to want it at the same time. She was very much the type of person to want to have her cake and eat it too, which we know doesn't always work. The one rather surprising thing about Belle is how much she loves and taking care of them. This was rather shocking to me considering how many men she murdered. 

Overall I liked this book. It is very graphic at times because we see Belle dealing with the bodies and disposing of them.  It was interesting to see the different methods she would use depending on the person and why she would do it. Belle was very driven by money and power which is understandable considering what she had grown up in and how she didn't want to feel that way again. This book was a very fast-paced read for me. 

If you like true crime books, or just want to see things from a female serial killer's perspective for a change I think you'll like this book. 

I do think it's important to mention that the author did have to take some liberties when it came to parts of this book as little is known about Belle and public accounts vary greatly between people. There is also no clear number of how many men she killed.
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Bella is a Scandinavian woman who has been wronged in her life as a young woman & vows to get her revenge.  That first act of revenge opens up something dark inside of her that she did know was there & eats her alive for the rest of her life. 

Wow this book is amazingly entertaining and dark. The author says some of it is fiction but it was based on a real female serial killer from the 1800-1900s. I could not put this one down and when I had to I kept thinking about the next time I could pick it up. It was so dark but so fascinating at the same time. To have a look inside a female seial killers head was fascinating in my opinion. I highly recommend that you check this one out.
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I've always been fascinated by serial killers, especially female serial killers and so I was thrilled to get an ARC of this book!

The Black Widow of LaPorte/ Belle Gunness has always been made out to be pure evil and heartless so it was really nice to read a fictional portrayal of her where you get lots of background into her character. 
The pacing is a little slow(I found myself bored with the chapters about her sister...I wanted more Belle) but the story is intriguing and kept me engaged! I kept wondering how the heck she'd get out of each disaster and being shocked when she did!

I found myself rooting for Belle almost right up to the end and I enjoyed the afterward where the author explained just what she fictionalized.

This story was everything I wanted other books about female serial killers to be. If only it was a tad bit shorter and Nellie's parts were reduced it'd be a 5 star read from me!
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Title: #InTheGardenOfSpite
Author: #CamillaBruce
Publisher: @berkleypub
Pub Date: 1/19/21⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Type: #eBook⁣ (thanks @netgalley)
Genre: #Mystery #Thriller⁣
Must Read Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

My Thoughts:

Guys, I hate writing negative reviews. It actually pains me, considering I am not an author and have no idea what it takes to write a book, but all of my hopes and expectations for this book were shattered with this one. If you're an active follower, you know how much I love books featuring #serialkillers and strong female leads, so when I heard about this book, I WAS SO EXCITED! To be honest, this one missed the mark so much for me that I had to force myself to pick it back up to finish.

It's 489 pages and it felt every single bit as long as you would assume. There were so many parts that dragged and while the character development was excellent, I did not like ANYONE. And yes, I know we're not supposed to like serial killers, but I was hoping to side more with her! Was this gruesome and dark? Absolutely. Was it a super cool idea for a book? ABSOLUTELY. Was it fun reading a book based off of a real person? ABSOLUTELY. But something just didn't gel for me and I am totally the odd one out with my low rating. People are loving this one, and you may too. Just be prepared for a super long, detailed and slow burn plot before you start. I'd definitely read another book by this author because she did a fantastic job of providing the reader with vivid imagery.
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“Man Shall Inherit the Earth…Unless She Kills Him First.”  I’ve been wanting to try one of Camilla Bruce’s books for a while now and when I saw this attention-grabbing tagline on the cover of her latest novel, In the Garden of Spite, I knew I had to read it.  In the Garden of Spite is a work of historical fiction that follows the life of Belle Gunness, perhaps better known as “The Black Widow of La Porte,” one of the most famous female serial killers in American History.

Let me start by saying In the Garden of Spite isn’t for the faint of heart.  Belle’s preferred methods of dispatching her victims ranged from poisons to cleavers, and she quite literally butchered them, chopping them into manageable pieces to make it easier to bury them in her backyard.  So yes, it’s gory and gruesome at times, but if you can get past that, this story is a fascinating, in-depth look inside the mind of a serial killer.  I was equally repulsed and riveted the entire time I was reading.

The author takes us through about thirty years of Belle’s life, from when she was a child living in poverty in Norway all the way through to the height of her killing spree once she has immigrated to America.  Belle’s early life was not an easy one and the author paints a vivid portrait as to how abuse, trauma, and poverty could have shaped her into the very disturbed woman we meet in this book.

Belle is a truly fascinating character and I found myself drawn to her more than I expected to be.  She’s not an especially likeable character, being a serial killer and all, but wow, her resourcefulness and determination is impressive! As twisted as she could be most of the time, I frequently found myself quite impressed by her at other times.  How she managed to spin her way out of trouble time and time again, and how she is constantly able to reinvent herself.  Normally an unlikeable main character would derail my enjoyment of a book, but Belle is just so fascinating that I found myself glued to the story in spite of myself.

One of my favorite parts of the story though is how Belle’s life is presented.  The author uses two perspectives, 1) Belle’s and 2) Belle’s older sister, Nellie, who also lives in America.  With Belle’s perspective, we obviously get that intimate look into what she’s thinking and feeling as she commits each heinous murder.  With Nellie’s perspective though, we get the perspective of a family member who loves her sister deeply, but who is also torn between her desire to protect her baby sister from the world and her increasing suspicion that there is something truly broken in Belle and that she may be forced to do something about it.  I just loved the contrast in these two points of view.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Black Widow of La Porte, I highly recommend In the Garden of Spite.  It’s a dark and grisly, yet truly riveting tale.
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